Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Best Lunch Salad

Not too long ago, a friend observed that she wished people would stop serving salad as a meal. It doesn’t matter if you try to fancy it up with fruit or chicken, she said. Salad’s place is as a vegetable, a side next to the real food. This made me laugh for two reasons. One, I had just hosted a little lunch at my house where the main course was spicy honey chicken salad from the Our Best Bites blog.

The other reason for laughing, though, it that I used to completely relate to her opinion. I'd eat my greens for the pleasure of checking off my "vegetable" box and then quickly move on to more delicious fare. In the house where I grew up, most of us never even added salad dressing. Am I right, Elin? It was rabbit-food, basically.

Yet now for my confession: I eat salad for lunch almost every day. No, I'm not on a diet, and no, I don't hate myself. Rather, I have come to realize two important things. The first is that vegetables are crazy-good for you. While so many foodies advocate cutting out gluten, dairy, or any-oil-but-coconut-oil, I believe that the best thing many of us could do for our diet is to add more fruits and vegetables. 

I remember studying the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet in nursing school. This isn't a "diet" as much as healthy eating guidelines to help lower high blood pressure. It mostly aligns with the original "Food Pyramid" which we all learned in elementary school: healthy whole grains, lean meat, low-fat dairy, healthy oils, limited sweets and, of course, fruits and vegetables. What startled me was the amount of servings it recommended for the latter two. Any guesses? 4-5 servings of fruits and 4-5 servings of vegetables.

That was twice as many as I thought we were supposed to get! That stupid "5-a-Day the Color Way" commercial deceived me! 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables sounded like so much. But the benefits to those who eat this way are remarkable. Aside from lowering high blood pressure and cholesterol, this diet also is associated with lower risk of several types of cancer, heart disease, stroke, kidney stones, and diabetes. And, no surprise, those who follow it also tend to maintain a healthy weight.  (Find out about it at or here.)

My nursing and nutrition classes really helped me shift my paradigm on vegetables, and I have a goal to incorporate them into our families meals and snacks. One wonderful way to do that is by making delicious salads. At first, salads seemed like a pain. I felt like I needed lots of ingredients which would go bad before I used them all up. I'm too poor to waste food! Yet I finally found "The Best Lunch Salad." It's simple, and the ingredients will last from several days up until a week. Plus, it tastes like happiness.

The Best Lunch Salad

First, I use spinach. I'm sure there are other tasty greens out there; any will do! Yet spinach is packed with lots of good nutrients and lasts a whole lot longer than lettuce. I was throwing out so much romaine, but no more. I almost always have a bag of baby spinach on hand.

Next, I add roma tomatoes. I like that they are small and sweet, just the right size for a personal salad. Cherry or grape tomatoes work well, too. 

Next, avocado. True to form, I love my California avocados. I also love that you can buy a whole bag of them at grocery outlet for $2 when they are in season! Seriously! This bag only cost $2! I usually use half an avocado per salad and save the other half for the next day:

To make my salad filling, I like to add protein. Often, I'll keep a stock of boiled eggs in the fridge and slice one on top. Other times, I have a supply of cut up perfect chicken on hand to add.

Then I top it off with mozzarella cheese. Nothing beats expensive, fresh, soft mozzarella cheese that comes in those tiny little balls. Mmm. Yet I can't afford such luxuries, and so shredded mozzarella in a bag is also very tasty. I actually really like Walmart's mozzarella; the pieces are big and soft.

Can you see the healthy goodness? Toss it with some Italian salad dressing (yes, I do use dressing nowadays), and it tastes good, too. Happily, I find that as I eat more fruits and vegetables, I naturally eat less and less junk food, without even trying.

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